Enrolments also boomed in 2016, reaching 712,884 across all sectors – an increase of 10.9% from the previous year. More than half were new enrolments, which grew by 10% to reach 414,292.
These figures were published alongside the results of the department’s biennial international student satisfaction survey, which found that 89% of international students were satisfied or very satisfied with their study experience in Australia.
“2016 was a ‘gangbuster’ year for international education in Australia”
“With record student numbers and record student satisfaction, 2016 was a ‘gangbuster’ year for international education in Australia and the vital role it plays in our national economic and social prosperity,” commented Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, in an announcement.
A breakdown of the figures shows the higher education sector accounted for the greatest proportion of international student enrolments (43%) in 2016, increasing by 12.9% to 306,691 last year.
Similar growth was found in the VET sector, where international student enrolments rose by 11.6% to 187,801.
ELICOS international student enrolments also grew, but at a slower rate (4.3%) to 151,110, hampered by a drop in enrolments from Europe.
China remained the top nationality of incoming students across all sectors by far, accounting for over a quarter (27.5%) of the total number of enrolments – 196,315.
India was the second most represented country with 78,424 enrolments – a growth of 8.9% from the year before.
Korea, Thailand and Vietnam completed the top five source countries, which between them, accounted for 51.3% of all international student enrolments.
Further insight into international students’ study choices was revealed in the international student satisfaction survey, in which almost three quarters (74%) of the 65,696 respondents said Australia was their first choice destination for overseas study.
The reputation of Australian qualifications was the top factor when deciding to study in the country, true for 95% of respondents. The reputation of the education system was a close second with 94%, while 93% of respondents cited personal safety and security as a factor for choosing Australia.
Quality of research, and the reputation of the higher education provider were also deciding factors for 92% of respondents.
The record-high satisfaction levels mean that students who study in Australia return home singing the country’s praises, noted Birmingham.
“Benefits will also be long lasting as international students create a massive diaspora of Australian friends and advocates across the world”
“This global word-of-mouth, coupled with the Turnbull government’s unprecedented support for our international education institutions means Australia’s world-renowned safe and friendly environment would continue to help build on the more than half a million current international students from nearly 200 countries,” he said.
Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said the high number of enrolments and the positive satisfaction rates highlight the importance maintaining the government policies and investments in international education.
“International students invigorate our high quality education system, our economy, our society, culture and our global relationships,” she said.
“The contribution of international students is critical as our economy continues to evolve to generate new knowledge-based industries and companies.”
International education exports in Australia hit $21.8bn in 2016, making it the third largest export after iron ore and coal, and the industry supports over 130,000 jobs.
“Benefits will also be long lasting as international students create a massive diaspora of Australian friends and advocates across the world, while leaving Australian students better equipped to deal with a world increasingly reliant upon global engagement,” Birmingham said.
“While indicators are showing that we will achieve continued growth in international student numbers in 2017, we will also leave no stone unturned to maximise these opportunities.”